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  • valeriehuggins0

Action, Gesture, Paint!

As a creative photographer wanting to explore new avenues, I often need a 'reboot' or new inspirations for my photography. So, in pursuit of new ideas I took a trip to London last week to visit some exhibitions. One of the most inspiring was to the Action, Gesture, Paint : Women Artists and Global Abstraction at the Whitechapel Gallery. 150 works of art by 80 women from across the world who were creating in the 1940s to 1970s, connected by thei use of gestural abstraction. As Maggie Gray says in her review Women Artists Make a Radical Mess!

The first painting as you enter is April Mood (1974) by Helen Frankenthaler and I immediately felt at home! Appeared to me to be a depiction of the sea, the beach and the cliffs of Devon, under a pastel blue and pink sky. A calm and welcoming start, followed by lots of chaos! There was such an eclectic mix of paintings overall, from the bright splashes of colour of Elaine de Kooning and Amaranth Ehrenhalt, the beige and black palette and lines of Fayga Ostrower, the dripped paint of Janet Sobel, the urban mix of paint and text of Sarah Grilo, the stark reds of Ethel Schwabacher, the silvers of Anna-Eve Bergman......... I could go on and on!

As someone quite new to Abstract Expressionism I found the blurbs a really helpful aspect of the exhibition. So informative, setting the pieces of art into their social, political and historical context: post WW2, global industrialisation, birth of the civil rights movement, post-colonialism the cold war etc; as well as making the links with other artists and movements, such as Cubism and Surrealism, Taschisme and Art Informel. I was surprised by how internationally well-travelled many of the women were, seeking places for their work. Paris and New York were particularly popular places.

After two hours I was on overload and had to step away and indulge in a very welcome glass of chilled wine - highly recommended after such an immersive experience!

And as I reflect on the day, read through the reviews and dip into my beautiful book of the exhibition, my mind continues to process my responses and to develop my understandings of 'Abstract Expressionism'. Having been someone that not that long ago if I was stood in front of abstract painting I might have commented 'what is it meant to be?' I think I can now sit with the notion that as the viewer it is for me to make sense of what I am seeing. I appreciate that it can be unsettling if the artists break the usual rules of composition, leading lines, use of colour etc, but that it is deliberate. And some of the provocations led me to not enjoying some of the pieces of work as much as others because I was struggling to make sense of them. Others just 'sang' to me and I could feel a lifting of my spirit. My task now is to work out why - and then use this is inform my photography.

That could lead to another possible dilemma - to what extent should one try to 'copy' the work of another artist in order to improve one's one creations? Is it not plagiarism? Some argue that copying people's art can boost creativity while others disagree, and say copying kills creativity. I think this is an issue that I need to research further!

NB: I have not added any photos of the paintings to this piece for copyright reasons, but you can see them on the link that I included to Maggie Gray's review.

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